Yet another mention of the USA’s proposed missile defense system in the news today. For months the current administration has been seeking to build these bases in Poland and the Czech Republic as a defense against a possible Iranian ballistic strike. Russia has been responding to the USA’s plan with disdain, perceiving the defense systems as being a little too close to home, and has even offered a location in Azerbaijan to take the place of the bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. The USA refused to accept such a compromise.When asked most Czech’s feel conflicted about the proposal and would certainly be much happier if they didn’t have to choose between the power that once occupied their country and the power that is continually encroaching on countries around the globe.
This post isn’t about the missile defense though- at least not in its entirety. On the 4th of June this year a demonstration took place in Prague to protest Bush’s arrival to the Czech Republic and his administration’s plan to build their base. I will tell you about an unprecedented event that occurred on that day, an event that was never reported by the Czech media.
A little background first: On the day Bush arrived in Prague, millions of Czech crowns were spent on security. Most people don’t really consider this but whenever Bush declares a visit a country must prepare hundreds of police officers, anti-terror squads, block of streets and other communications, and so on. On that day the Czechs planned a protest to take place on Venceslav Square. This isn’t just some random location but a place of incredible significance. Here the independent Czechoslovak state was declared in 1918, the occupation of World War II was protested against in 1945, Jan Palach burned himself alive in protest of the Soviet occupation in 1969, and the culmination of the protests which led to the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 also took place here. Since then Venceslav Square has seen countless protests.
But on June 4th 2007, no protest took place at Venceslav Square, even though it was a matter of national importance. On that day, for the first time in Czech history a protest was relocated, banned from taking place at this prominent square in the center of town, it was rescheduled to take place behind the Prague castle, where few people ever go and few would notice. The symbolism of appearing before this traditional meeting place was lost completely. The reason: It was too much of a security risk for president Bush’s visit.
Also lost was the significance of this to the Czech people. Being accustomed to protesting where they like, as seen during the CzechTek protests in front of the interior ministry, this relocation was an unexpected inconvenience, but no one seemed to realize how this marginalized the message of the demonstrators. In the USA it’s a common tactic, we are regulated to our “free speech zones” and are often arrested for not staying on the sidewalk. Any excuse is used to arrest a protester. It’s an absolutely genius method of limiting the power of the people, because no one is prohibiting our freedom to gather or our freedom to protest, we are simply being relocated to a less noticeable and less symbolic spot. It completely undermines the message because the demonstrators are taken out of context, appearing like a random group of hooligans.
Why didn’t the Czech media cover this aspect of the story? Maybe they were too focused on the “anarchists” protesting. Maybe they simply weren’t used to such political tactics. Maybe it wasn’t a intentional maneuver at all, but simply a “security issue”. But one thing is for sure…
This day will never go down in the history books.